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Law Enforcement Today | July 31, 2016

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Geotagging: How Victims Advertise Themselves to Criminals

Bruce Bremer, MBA

Crime-fighting and health care work best when you prevent the problem from happening in the first place.  Otherwise, you’re stuck with playing catch-up all the time.  One of the biggest cancers in our midst is the child-snatching pedophile.  Reacting after he strikes is just as sickening as a doctor watching his patient waste away.  Both the officer and the doctor realize that this could have been one of their own loved ones.

The Internet has become the number one tool of the pedophile.  To make things worse, popular consumer electronics make it easy for degenerates to victimize kids.  Consider this scenario:

A parent takes her 10 year-old daughter to a competitive cheerleading meet while the kid is decked-out with makeup needed under the bright lights.  He or she can’t resist taking pictures of the adorable child.  Why not… the camera’s there, part of their iphone, android, or Blackberry?  Next step, upload it for friends and relatives on Twitter or Facebook.  Nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, maybe, maybe not.  What are the privacy settings for the Twitter or Facebook account?  More to the point, does the smart phone or digital camera taking the picture have geotagging enabled?  Geotagging and metadata are terms for data embedded in the picture file that contain the time and location when the picture was tak.  This information can be accessed by a perp to find out where the child lives, how old the children is, where they go to school, and what specific part of the city park they play in (plus or minus 30 feet).  It’s a pedophile’s dream come true.

Civilians are not the only ones affected.  Law enforcement and military have good reason to avoid having their pictures embedded with time, location, and ID metadata that can be accessed by the bad guys.  The military is getting pretty good about letting the troops know about it.  What about you?  Your officers?  The public you are here to protect?

So what can you do about it?  First, educate yourself so you can share this knowledge.  Tell people that they must get to know all their devices.  They can disable the GPS receiver itself, but legitimate uses such as mapping, driving directions, and other location-related programs would be disabled as well.  Enhanced 911 would be hampered in the event that the caller could not communicate the location of the emergency.  Also, officers should not ncourage citizens in turning off a valuable investigative tool.

Instead, encourage users to disable the geotagging feature on their smart phone camera.  There is no uniform method of turning off geotagging on any given smart phone.  User guides for smart phones are typically accessed by finding the “help” app.  Internet searches are helpful to find the steps to take for a specific phone.  The fail-safe method is to contact your service provider.

NBC Chicago provides the following recommendation for personal security:

Authorities recommend that all of your family members’ social media accounts be set to the highest “private” setting available.
If you have an iPhone, make sure the “Location Services” tab in the camera’s settings is switched to off.
If you have a Blackberry, it’s the “Geotagging” tab in camera settings menu.
Android and other smartphones have similar settings. The option should always be off.
Authorities also recommend changing your settings so that all Facebook “tags” must first be approved.
Make sure the GPS option on your Facebook or Twitter accounts is also set to off.

Learn more about this article here:–137537933.html

Bruce Bremer, MBA is LET’s technology contributor.  Bruce retired from the Submarine Service after 21 years of in-depth experience with complex electronic technology.  Since then, he has been involved in fleet modernization and military research analysis. He teaches electronics and alternative energy at at a Virginia college. Besides his MBA, Bruce earned a Bachelor of Science degree in computer networking.  He has been volunteering in public safety for many years.

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